Derby Police, Citing Ex-Cop’s Request, Won’t Release Internal Affairs Report

Photo: Ethan Fry DERBY — The Derby Police Department will not release an internal affairs report about an officer who recently resigned after being arrested.

According to a letter from Derby Police Chief Gerald Narowski, the report is being kept from the public because the officer has objected to its release.

The Valley Indy has filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission to compel the department and the officer to release the report.

Background

Derby Police Officer Jordan Gochros resigned Jan. 29 after a three-hour, closed-door meeting in front of the Derby Board of Police Commissioners.

The private meeting was allowed under state law.

Gochros had been arrested in August 2017 in connection to three misdemeanor domestic violence charges. He allegedly hit a woman several times during an argument.

The arrest triggered an internal affairs investigation and, presumably, a written report.

The Valley Indy requested to review the report.

Narowski, presumably after checking with a city lawyer, said the officer is allowed to object to the release of the internal affairs report under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

But that is an all-too-common misreading of the state’s Freedom of Information Act, according to blog posts by Matthew Kaufman, a veteran investigative reporter with The Hartford Courant.

The act allows an employee to block the release “only if the release of those records would constitute a “clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy,” according to the journalist.

He writes:

“In unpacking that phrase nearly a quarter-century ago, the state Supreme Court established an extremely high bar for invoking the exemption, ruling that personnel records could be withheld only if each of two prongs was met: that the information was of no legitimate public concern, and the information was of a sort that its release would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. And matters involving public employees performing their public duties are generally presumed under the law to be of legitimate public interest.”

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Although the Derby police officer’s arrest did not happen while on duty, it is obviously a matter of public concern because taxpayer dollars went toward the creation of an internal affairs report.

The misconception cited in Derby routinely wastes the time of the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, whose members are constantly explaining the law to municipal officials, according to Kaufman.

Second Public Document Also Denied

On Thursday, the Derby Board of Aldermen voted in public to approve a legal agreement with the officer.

That document is separate and apart from the internal affairs report.

But the chief said he is the custodian of the record and would not release the agreement until the document was reviewed by the Derby Board of Police Commissioners Monday.

That position is also questionable under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, since the public has an obvious right to know what their representatives approved.

The Valley Indy obtained the agreement Friday afternoon, which showed Derby is paying the officer $4,500 — a use of public funds not previously disclosed.

Members of the police commission did not comment on the settlement after the Jan. 29 hearing.

The two lawyers involved failed to mention the dollar amount to a reporter when questioned.

Derby Aldermen also did not make that public last week, even after voting to approve the dollar amount.

Criminal Charges

Gochros was charged with third-degree assault, second-degree breach of peace, and third-degree criminal mischief in connection to the domestic violence allegations.

He was suspended without pay after Derby police learned of his arrest. Gochros had been the department’s dog handler.

Gochros’ case is still listed as pending in New Haven court. The next court date is May 29. He is participating in the court’s family violence program, according to the online court database.

Derby police started an internal affairs investigation soon after the officer’s off-duty arrest.

The Valley Indy requested a copy of the internal affairs report Jan. 26. On Feb. 2, Chief Narowski sent a letter denying access to the report because Gochros has objected to its release.

The City of Derby previously tried to keep the public from seeing a disciplinary report regarding a Department of Public Works employee. The city used the same excuse. The New Haven Register appealed the decision in 2012 to the Freedom of Information Commission.

Derby lost and had to release the document to the public..

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